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William Samuel Paley
Born September 28, 1901(1901-09-28)
Chicago, Illinois
Died October 26, 1990 (aged 89)
New York City
Education The Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania
Spouse(s) Dorothy Hart Hearst (1908-1998) (m. 1932–1947) «start: (1932)–end+1: (1948)»"Marriage: Dorothy Hart Hearst (1908-1998) to William S. Paley" Location: (linkback:
Barbara "Babe" Cushing Mortimer (1915-1978) (m. 1947–1978) «start: (1947)–end+1: (1979)»"Marriage: Barbara "Babe" Cushing Mortimer (1915-1978) to William S. Paley" Location: (linkback:
Parents Samuel Paley

William Samuel Paley (September 28, 1901 – October 26, 1990) was the chief executive who built Columbia Broadcasting System (CBS) from a small radio network into one of the foremost radio and television network operations in the United States.[1]


Early life

Paley's father, Samuel Paley, a Russian Jewish immigrant, ran a cigar company and, as the company became increasingly successful, the new millionaire moved his family to Philadelphia in the early 1920s. William Paley matriculated at Western Military Academy in Alton, IL then received his college degree from the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania in expectation that he would take an increasingly active role running the family cigar business.

The younger Paley's career took a fateful turn in 1927 when his father and some business partners bought a struggling Philadelphia-based radio network of 16 stations called the Columbia Phonographic Broadcasting System. Samuel Paley's intention had been to use his acquisition as nothing more than an advertising medium for promoting the family's cigar business, which included the La Palina brand. Within a year, under William's leadership, cigar sales had more than doubled, and, in 1928, the Paley family secured majority ownership of the network. Within a decade, Paley had expanded the network to 114 affiliate stations.

Broadcasting pioneer

During World War II, Paley served in the psychological warfare branch in the Office of War Information, under General Dwight Eisenhower, and held the rank of colonel. It was while based in London, England, during the war when Paley came to know and befriend Edward R. Murrow, CBS's head of European news.

Paley quickly grasped the earnings potential of radio and recognized that good programming was the key to selling advertising time and, in turn, bringing in profits to the network and to affiliate owners. Before Paley, most businessmen viewed radio stations as stand-alone outlets or, in other words, as the broadcast equivalent of local newspapers. Individual stations originally bought programming from the network and, thus, were considered the network's clients.

Paley changed broadcasting's business model not only by being a genius at developing successful and lucrative programming but also by viewing the advertisers (sponsors) as the most significant element of the broadcasting equation. Paley provided network programming to affiliate stations at nominal cost, thereby ensuring the widest possible distribution for both the programming and the advertising. The advertisers then became the network's primary clients and, because of the wider distribution brought by the growing network, Paley was able to charge more for the ad time. Affiliates were required to carry programming offered by the network for part of the broadcast day, receiving a portion of the network's fees from advertising revenue. At other times in the broadcast day, affiliates were free to offer local programming and sell advertising time locally.

Paley's recognition of how to harness the potential reach of broadcasting was the key to his growing CBS from a tiny chain of stations into what was eventually one of the world's dominant communication empires. During his prime, Paley was described as having an uncanny sense for popular taste[2] and exploiting that insight to build the CBS network. As war clouds darkened over Europe in the late 1930s, Paley recognized Americans' desire for news coverage of the coming war and built the CBS news division into a dominant force just as he had previously built the network's entertainment division.

In 1946, when Paley promoted Frank Stanton to president of CBS, broadcasting would never be the same. CBS expanded into TV early through Paley's strong, some would say ruthless, maneuvering. He rode the post-World War II boom in that medium to surpass NBC, which had dominated radio. Paley became the best-known executive in network television, personifying the control and vision which marked the industry through its heyday of the 1980s.

CBS long-owned the Columbia Record Company and its associated CBS Laboratories. Columbia Records introduced the 33-1/3-rpm long-playing vinyl disc to successfully compete with RCA Victor's 45-rpm vinyl disc. Also, CBS Laboratories and Peter Goldmark developed a method for color television. After much bare-knuckled lobbying in Washington, D.C., by RCA President David Sarnoff and Paley, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) approved the RCA color system as the standard, and CBS sold the patents to its system to foreign broadcasters as PAL SECAM. CBS was the last of the three broadcast networks to adopt color television, having to buy and license RCA equipment and technology. (PAL or Phase Alternating Line, an analogue TV-encoding system, is today a television-broadcasting standard used in large parts of the world.)

Paley was respected not only for building CBS into an entertainment powerhouse but also for encouraging the development of a news division that went on to dominate broadcast journalism for decades, but is a shadow of its former self today.

"Bill Paley erected two towers of power, one for entertainment and one for news," 60 Minutes creator Don Hewitt claimed in his autobiography, Tell Me a Story. "And he decreed that there would be no bridge between them.... In short, Paley was the guy who put Frank Sinatra and Edward R. Murrow on the radio and 60 Minutes on television." (Hewitt diplomatically omits reference to Stanton who ultimately approved all the programming.)

The relationship between Paley and his news staff was not always smooth. His friendship with Ed Murrow, one of the leading lights in the CBS news division and by then a vice president of CBS, suffered during the 1950s over the hard-hitting tone of the Murrow-hosted See It Now series. The implication was that the network's sponsors were uneasy about some of the controversial topics of the series, leading to Paley worrying about lost revenue to the network as well as unwelcome scrutiny during the era of McCarthyism. In fact, in 1955, Alcoa withdrew its sponsorship of See It Now, and eventually the program's weekly broadcast on Tuesdays was stopped, though it continued as a series of special segments until 1958.

In 1959, James T. Aubrey, Jr., became the president of CBS. Under Aubrey, the network became the most popular on television with shows like The Beverly Hillbillies and Gilligan's Island. However, Paley's personal favorite was Gunsmoke; in fact, he was such a fan of Gunsmoke that, upon its threatened cancellation in 1967, he demanded that it be reinstated, a dictum that led to the abrupt demise of Gilligan's Island, which had already been renewed for a fourth season.

During the 1963–1964 television season, 14 of the top 15 shows on prime-time and the top 12 shows of daytime television were on CBS. Aubrey, however, fought constantly with Fred W. Friendly of CBS News, and Paley did not like Aubrey's taste in low-brow programming. Aubrey and Paley bickered to the point that Aubrey approached Frank Stanton to propose a take-over of CBS. The takeover never materialized, and, when CBS's ratings began to slip, Paley fired Aubrey in 1965.

In 1972, Paley ordered the shortening of a second installment of a two-part CBS Evening News series on the Watergate based on a complaint by Charles Colson, an aide to President Richard M. Nixon. And later, Paley briefly ordered the suspension of instant and often negatively critical analyses by CBS news commentators, which followed the Presidential addresses.

Over the years, Paley continued to sell portions of his family stockholding in CBS and diversified his portfolio. At the time of his death, he had owned less than nine percent of the outstanding stock. In 1995, five years after Paley's death, CBS was bought by Westinghouse Electric Corporation and, in 1999, by Viacom, which itself was once a subsidiary of CBS. Today, CBS is owned by the CBS Corporation, after being spun off from Viacom in 2006, though National Amusements is still the majority owner of the CBS Corporation and the "new" Viacom.

Other interests

In the 1940s, William Paley and Dr. Leon Levy formed Jaclyn Stable that owned and raced a string of thoroughbred race horses. Paley formed a modern art collection with as many as 40 major works, and he enjoyed photographing Picasso in Cap d'Antibes. Like Picasso, Paley drove an exotic French Facel Vega Facel II, the fastest four-seater car in the world in the early 1960s.[3]

In 1964, CBS purchased the New York Yankees from the Del Webb Company and, in 1973, sold the franchise to Cleveland shipbuilder George Steinbrenner and a group of investors. Acting on behalf of CBS, Paley sold the team at its low ebb for $8.7 million. In April 2006, Forbes Magazine estimated that the Yankees were worth $1.26 billion. To be fair, it was from 1964 under CBS stewardship that the dominant baseball team fell into mediocrity, not making the playoffs during that stretch.



Encouraged by Paley's avid interest in modern art and his outstanding collection, he became a trustee of the Rockefeller family's Museum of Modern Art in the 1930s and, in 1962, was tapped by then-chairman David Rockefeller to be its president. In 1968, he joined a syndicate with Rockefeller and others to buy six works by Picasso for the museum from the notable Gertrude Stein collection. He subsequently became chairman, stepping down from the museum post in 1985.[4]

The Paley Center for Media in Los Angeles and New York City was founded by Paley in 1976, when it was known as the Museum of Broadcasting. From 1991 to 2007, it was known as The Museum of Television and Radio; its new location was known as the Paley Building.

In 1974, Paley dedicated the second building at the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications at Syracuse University. He also personally dedicated the library at Temple University named in honor of his father, Samuel L. Paley.

Personal life

Marriage to Dorothy Hart Hearst

Paley met Dorothy Hart Hearst (1908–1998) while she was married to John Randolph Hearst, the third son of William Randolph Hearst. Paley fell in love with her, and, after her Las Vegas divorce from Hearst, she and Paley married on May 12, 1932, in Kingman, Arizona.[5]

Dorothy called on her extensive social connections acquired during her previous marriage to introduce Paley to several top members of President Franklin Roosevelt's government. She also exerted a considerable influence over Paley's political views. She later said: "I can’t believe he would have voted Democrat without me."[2]

Dorothy began to become estranged from Paley during the early 1940s because of his constant womanizing. They divorced on July 24, 1947, in Reno, Nevada, and she retained custody of their two adopted children, Jeffrey Paley and Hilary Paley. In 1953, Dorothy married stockbroker Walter Hirshon; they divorced in 1961.[5]

Marriage to Barbara Cushing Mortimer

Paley married divorcée, socialite and fashion icon Barbara "Babe" Cushing Mortimer on July 28, 1947. She was the daughter of renowned neurosurgeon Harvey Cushing. Paley and his second wife, in spite of their successes and social standing, were barred from being members of country clubs on Long Island because he was Jewish. As an alternative, the Paleys built a summer home, "Kiluna North," on Squam Lake in New Hampshire and spent the summers there for many years, routinely entertaining their many friends, including Lucille Ball, Grace Kelly and David O. Selznick. The house was later donated to Dartmouth College and converted to use as a conference center; Squam Lake was also the setting for the 1981 Mark Rydell film On Golden Pond. The couple had two children, William and Kate.

Other affairs

As noted, Paley was a notorious ladies' man who was adored by women his whole life. Indeed, his first marriage to Dorothy ended when a newspaper published the suicide note written to Paley by a former girlfriend. Resulting from another relationship, he provided a stipend to a former lover, actress Louise Brooks, for the rest of her life. In his later years, he enjoyed keeping company with a coterie of devoted lady friends.


Paley died of kidney failure on October 26, 1990. He was 89.[1]

In popular culture

In the 1986 television movie Murrow, Paley is played by Dabney Coleman. In the 2005 film Good Night, and Good Luck, Paley is played by Frank Langella.



  • As It Happened: A Memoir (Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1979)


  1. ^ a b "William S. Paley, Builder of CBS, Dies at 89.". New York Times. October 27, 1990. Retrieved 2008-04-25. "William S. Paley, who personified the power, glamour, allure and influence of CBS Inc., the communications empire he built, died last night at his home in Manhattan. He was 89 years old."  
  2. ^ a b Bedell Smith, Sally (1990). In All His Glory. The Life of William S. Paley. Simon and Schuster. ISBN 0-671-61735-4.  
  3. ^ " ... they have a place at Squam Lake in New Hampshire, where Paley tears up the back roads at 80 m.p.h. in his Facel-Vega": Time, Jan. 31, 1964
  4. ^ MoMA and the Stein collection - see David Rockefeller, Memoirs, New York: Random House, 2002. (pp.450-58)
  5. ^ a b "Dorothy H. Hirshon, 89, Dies; Socialite and Philanthropist". New York Times. January 31, 1998. Retrieved 2008-04-26. "Dorothy Hart Hirshon, a glamorous figure in New York society from the 1920's through the 40's who later became active in social, human rights and political causes, died Thursday in an automobile accident while driving near her home in Glen Cove, on Long Island. She was 89."  

Further reading

External links


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